Updated 06/15/2012 05:44 PM
Crew studies the science of deep space dining
The test kitchens at Cornell University host a crew about to embark on a simulated mission to Mars. Researchers are looking at ways to improve the health of deep-space travelers and as our Tamara Lindstrom tells us, it starts with a healthy appetite.
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ITHACA, N.Y. -- This crew training at Cornell University may be headed for Hawaii, but it's no vacation.
"The area is on very fresh lava flows. It's very sparse. There's no vegetation. It's red rocks. It's not swaying palm trees and beaches, it's very Mars like," said Kim Binstead, associate professor at the University of Hawaii.
Out of about 700 applicants, six of these nine finalists will spend four months isolated in a space simulation, part of a NASA research program on interplanetary eating. But first, they have to learn space camp survival, including how to cook.
That's where the researchers at Cornell University come in.
"We are learning to cook different foods based on the ingredients that we will have available at the habitat," said Yajaira Sierra, a candidate and materials scientist.
The candidates are working with a variety of commercially available foods with very long shelf lives. The challenge is to not only make them edible, but appetizing.
"Space anorexia can set in, which is sort of a loss of appetite," said Dr. Yvonne Cagle, a NASA management astronaut. "And that means your nutritional intake could go down and you're at risk for health and performance impacts just because you're not maintaining the calories or the nutrients you need."
Part of the problem is a swollen stomach that can develop from fluids moving around the abdomen in zero gravity. But the astronauts may not get hungry because they can't smell their favorite foods.
"Air molecules and odor molecules are not as concentrated," Cagle said. "And that can actually reduce sensitivity of being able to smell things that you like to eat."
A problem that can hopefully be cured with the expertise of Cornell's top chef.
With the help of Cornell and the University of Hawaii, NASA researchers are hoping the new menu they develop will allow for deep space missions that can last three years or more.